2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
July 7, 2019 –Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
I have a long windup on the pitch this morning. We begin in contemporary times and we get back to Hebrew Bible times before we arrive at Revolutionary times. Please bear with me.
We are addicted to drama. We are as likely to say that we saw the most beautiful sunset in our life last night as we are to say that the sunset last night was quite beautiful.
We are as likely to say that someone is the silliest person we have ever met as we are to say that someone we met expressed themselves to us in a shallow and self-absorbed way.
As listeners, we are not likely to be impressed that someone has discovered a new shade of gray… but a deeper black or a more brilliant white commands attention. People stop to listen to us, with more respect or more awe…or more disgust…when we go to the extremes.
Superlatives have impact. They engage our imagination and get us ginned up to stop what we are doing to see this New Thing in the History Of Civilization.
The people who serve up the weather were among the first to help me realize how powerful the biggest or the greatest or the worst could be in our era of 24 hour-a-day, seven day-a-week immersion in the media that now surrounds us so completely that it has become the god in whom we live and breathe and have our being.
When I was a deputy city attorney in Billings I got onto a list for city attorneys around the country. Seven hundred municipal law experts spent a fair part of their time helping each other solve problems.
On a trip to a national gathering at Las Vegas in 2008, Hurricane Ike blew ashore at Galveston. It huffed and it puffed and it blew a lot of houses down. The Galveston city attorney posted a query whether he could commandeer a blown-out hotel downtown for a command center. I departed Billings for Denver.
When I landed, attorneys from across the nation had told him he could set up in the hotel and make payment later. In fact, they said, it would be welcome. I departed Denver.
By the time I landed in Las Vegas, many other city attorneys who had been through similar disasters were sending Galveston’s city attorney disaster declarations and inter-local agreements they thought he would need to get things done in as little time as possible.
That was the power of people who just wanted to get things done so cities could “take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’”, as the Timex commercial used to say.
So then, one day, there were a number of posts to our friends in Florida because someone had seen a Weather Channel report that a terrible storm was about to make land and it was one of the worst storms in a long, long time.
Are you going to be all right? How can we help you? What do you need? We were all surprised when the Florida attorneys said, “Oh… you must be watching the Weather Channel. It’s raining and the wind is up, but this is not The Big One!”
They had learned that The Weather Channel hyped their storms…so people would keep watching and not turn to I Love Lucy reruns or something more entertaining… and more edifying.
They told us about the Hurricane Parties they had and how the walls of the house would bow in when a Big One did hit. But this wasn’t it.
It helped us cope with the news in a new way. It wasn’t too long after that that we all were able to see how the online era in the news was beginning to click-bait us.
Every news story was not just bad but terrible…the worst…the biggest… the most dangerous… event in modern times…when it was not. They got advertising revenue when we clicked on a story with a tag line was sensational enough. They got more if we forwarded the story…and they got even more when our friends clicked on it…and still more when they forwarded it. It wasn’t about the news…it was about money.
And we began to respond more calmly to surprising events in our own cities and towns and villages…in our own day.
This Friday night, for example, when the second major earthquake hit southern California, regular programming was interrupted to announce the disaster.
The first one had been heralded as the sign of really, really big things to come, so we were primed to hear at any minute that half of California had fallen into the Pacific.
It was bad, to be sure, but how bad was it, I wondered. I remembered that the San Diego Padres were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodgers Stadium, so I flipped the channel to the baseball game.
The announcers told me who was up and what the score was and how many outs there were and who was on base…but no one mentioned the world changing earthquake that had just stricken 100 miles north of LA.
I began thinking of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault. And I came back to the healing of Naaman. There is so much hysteria involved in this story.
Naaman is a general officer in the Aramean army. He has just won a victory in an important battle and his ruler, the King of Aram has been glorified by it. They have taken a prisoner, a girl who is serving Naaman’s wife.
Naaman has a problem…leprosy… and the girl says there is a prophet who can work wonders…who could cure him. So Naaman’s king sends a message to the king of Israel, asking that he cure Naaman’s illness.
The king of Israel sees it as a setup and cries out that ‘Nobody can do that!’…so the Arameans must be trying to pick a quarrel with me. He sees it just a pretext for an invasion.
Sound like anything we are hearing in the news these days? Well, what we need is more people like Elisha, who sent a message to Israel’s king.
“Why have you torn your clothes? Let Naaman come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel…that Israel knows something.”
Let’s not make the problem bigger than it has to be, my king. Let’s solve it…and make a friend of the king of Aram and his favorite general.
Naaman comes to Elisha and Elisha doesn’t even come out of his hovel. “Tell him to go wash in the Jordan seven times and he will be clean.”
Now it’s Naaman’s turn to be offended. He should have come out to such a great general as I am! He should have done something more dramatic than to tell me to go wash in the Jordan! He has shown great disrespect for me and my army and my nation!
Naaman didn’t have email or Facebook, but he is as ready as any of us to be click-baited…and he would only have made the situation worse. Fortunately, he had servants who were able to talk to him in a way he could hear. They could put his ears on and remove the sword from his hand.
If he had made a big show of it and given you a great quest, they ask, would you not have done it? So what is the point? A big show? A sensational quest? Or to be cured of leprosy?
You are right, Naaman says …much to his credit… the point is the point and the point is to be cured of leprosy. So he takes Elisha’s advice bathes in the Jordan seven times …and he is cured.
Early in our nation’s history, Thomas Jefferson was Vice President under our second President, John Adams. Jefferson did some dark journalism and anonymously posted some false and scurrilous information about Adams during the election of 1800 and Adams was defeated…Jefferson was elected…largely because of it.
Adams found out who had done the terrible, dishonorable thing and he and Jefferson had a falling out and did not speak for a long, long time.
Fortunately for the nation…and for Jefferson and Adams…another signer of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia was on good terms with both men, realized that both men were extraordinary human beings, and grieved the loss of their friendship and all that it could mean for our young country.
He approached Jefferson who had grievances, as Adams did against him. Neighbors of Jefferson then visited Adams and told him Jefferson spoke well of him. Adams said, “I always loved Jefferson, and I still do.”
Those eight words were reported to Jefferson…and that was all it took to get things restarted between these two great men. Jefferson wrote to Adams and an old, old friendship was rekindled and continued until July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
They were two of the three last surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence. Only John Carroll of Carrolton in South Carolina would survive them.
They had agreed on so many things and they finally realized that what drew them close was more important than what separated them.
On July 4, 1826, when, Jefferson died a little before 1:00 p.m. and Adams past away five hours later. Adams’ last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”
He was wrong in a way, but in another way, both he and Jefferson survive today, and so does their example of unending friendship and the ability to move on.
Perhaps today, 193 years later, this is the most important thing they have bequeathed to us…an ability to remain friends in spite of our differences. There is something more important than our quarrels.
Even the great Aramean General Naaman was able to see that what was good was what was important.
We have progressed in so many ways since the days of Naaman… and since the days of Jefferson and Adams. As we have gained knowledge in this interval, have we gained wisdom?
Today, the polarization in our society is as great as it has been at any time since the Civil War. Can we find the grace to look for what is good in all the contention?
Or are we stuck in the judgment we are entitled to have against those who do not agree with us? Can we look beyond what separates us to find the oneness that has kept us together for so long?
Can we simply agree to wash and be clean? As a nation? As a denomination? As neighbors? As friends who seek above all to serve our Lord and Savior? As human beings who know at some level that there is nothing more important than truth and love?
Do we still hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?
Is this still more important than anything that divides us? Can we simply wash and be clean?
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us…through me…this day? Amen.